Progress in Iraq


By: Greg C. Reeson

At the beginning of this year, the Multi-National Force-Iraq military command released its annual report on the state of affairs in the war-torn country once dominated by Saddam Hussein’s dictatorial regime. Called “Iraq: 2006 Year in Review,” the 25-page report offers some valuable insight into the progress being made, even as anti-war activists and members of Congress call for the withdrawal of American troops.

The report reveals early on the complexity that is post-Saddam Hussein Iraq: “It is important to note that violence and progress coexist in Iraq.” With each year that passes since the American-led invasion in 2003, the violence seems to get worse. To be sure, as the report says, “In 2006, Iraq saw its most complex security and political environment ever.”

But amid the steady stream of violence and chaos that fills the television airwaves, remarkable strides are in fact being made. According to the report, “…in 2006 Iraq reached its goal of 325,000 trained and equipped police and military security forces while taking control of its navy, air forces, multiple Iraqi Army divisions, and security responsibility for three entire provinces.”

The report goes on to note that “Baghdad…remains the main stage,” giving implicit support to the President’s plan to boost troop levels in order to quell the violence in the capital city.

Providing statistics to demonstrate the progress made thus far, the report says Iraqi military forces have grown from 102,199 personnel to 135,783. Similarly, the police forces have grown from 110,816 to 167,210 and nearly 100 logistical support units have been formed. From January to November, the report says, the Iraqi Army went from one to six division headquarters in the lead, from eight to 30 brigade headquarters in the lead and from 37 to 91 battalions in the lead for security operations.

Those in Washington who say the Iraqis aren’t moving fast enough to stand up their own security forces fail to appreciate the difficulties involved. The United States and her allies in Iraq are creating military and police forces essentially from scratch. Under Saddam Hussein, positions of leadership were based on loyalty to the state (which was Saddam) and political standing within the Ba’ath Party, and not on competence or ability.

Such a system is no longer valid for Iraq. Not only do we have to create Iraqi units, which involves both equipping and training the personnel for these units, we have to develop leaders and we have to train and equip the specialty positions required for units to sustain themselves. Such specialized positions include logistics personnel, medics, radio operators, engineers, bomb disposal technicians, etc. It is a vast undertaking made even more difficult by the fact that these fledgling forces are incessantly targeted for attack by insurgent groups.

As the report goes on, it says the coalition’s plan is to move away from active combat and toward a support and training role as Iraqi units grow in confidence and ability. Embedded trainers are expected to increase from 4,000 to 40,000 this year, a move that sounds almost identical to plans put forth by many Democratic critics of the President’s efforts. Maybe that’s where those calling for a change in course got the idea. The coalition plan also calls for active combat to target al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorists, an idea recently touted by Senator Reid and other prominent Democrats and one that has been included as a provision in at least one non-binding resolution proposal.

There is progress in other respects as well. According to the report, more Iraqis own cars, air conditioners, cell phones and satellite dishes than ever before. Per capita Gross Domestic Product, according to the International Monetary Fund, has grown from $949 in 2004, to an estimated $1,237 in 2005, to a projected $1,635 in 2006.

The point of all of this is to say that progress is indeed being made in Iraq. The going has been slow, to be sure, but we are still moving ahead. The sectarian divide that is bleeding Baghdad may not be overcome short of a full-scale genocide campaign. But the Iraqi government needs more time to work toward a national reconciliation that will bridge a divide developed over decades by Saddam Hussein’s Sunni minority government. Before the diplomatic process can move forward, the violence has to be reduced. That is where the President’s new security plan comes in. If American and Iraqi troops can bring the violence in Baghdad under control, then Iraq has a chance for a peaceful outcome. The initial results are encouraging, but the road ahead will be a long one, and a bloody one.

Virtually no one anticipated the post-invasion chaos that has enveloped Iraq. But that doesn’t mean we should just leave it for the Iraqis and hope for the best. As the report concludes, “Iraq is in a new stage of its evolution, and the impatient should consider all that liberation unleashed.” Now is the time to recognize that not all in Iraq is bad. Now is the time to support our commander in chief and allow his plan the time it needs to take hold. Anything less undermines our mission, our troops, and our coalition and Iraqi allies.

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